Surprising turn of events from Microsoft in LA today. In a rushed, hush-hush event, Ballmer and the Redmond crew unveiled Yet Another Ipad Wannabe – this time recycling the name of a product that failed earlier.
From the look and feel and design of the product, it does look enticing. The touch keyboard on the cover and the kickstand seem like inspired innovations that help fix some of the issues that iPad owners need to fix through add-ons. Otherwise it tries to mimic the other iPad clones in as many ways as possible.
Yes it promises the Metro look and Windows 8. And yes, it might do better than an HP or Asus tablet and weed out a few of those players. But a tablet by itself is just that – what is needed to make a winning combination is a strategy around the tablet. Apple had years of community building through iTunes, iPod and the iPhone before the iPad was introduced. It has a community of millions of developers building apps for its platform that are available for iPad users. Amazon built its reputation over the years before it offered the Kindle Fire as an easy way to interact with Amazon and purchase goods, or consume media, among other things. It has access to the Android app developer community as well.
On the other hand, Surface seems to be a reference design to show other Windows hardware manufacturers how not to screw up. Microsoft’s XBox strategy seems like the right one and has been showing results for them over the years, but Surface in isolation does not even begin to scratch the surface of the tablet market where it stands today. It might just remain a glorified touch interface for experiencing Windows 8.
Having been a PC guy all these years, I do wish to be proved wrong. Maybe the product marketing wizards in Redmond get it right this time. Maybe the community of developers that have sporadically built reliable apps for Windows will build newer ones for the Surface. Maybe the Blue or Azure Screen of Death will be things of the past in this new design. Microsoft has a tough ask in the sense that there is a much bigger expectation of interoperability from them than Apple – and there are a zillion ways to screw up on that front. Maybe revamped versions of Wave 15 Office products for the tablet to improve productivity is the answer. Or new and improved Lync Mobile in Wave15 for communication and collaboration.
Either way, Microsoft has thrown the gauntlet at Apple – albeit a couple of years too late and a couple of versions too old. And it has managed to make several of its hardware partners unhappy by encroaching upon their territory. Now that they have irritated several giants, its time to go all in and shake up the market a bit. Since the productive is not disruptive enough, maybe the price is? Can this be an almost-iPad at a Kindle fire price? Or is the idea one of slow attrition – chip away at the dominant player’s market share by gathering the consumers that find this “good-enough” and are ultimately price discriminators?